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Pay gap holds black women back, says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook Chief Operating Office and founder of Sheryl Sandberg is interviewed by National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial during the opening luncheon of the 2018 National Urban League Conference at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Wednesday, August 1, 2018. [Jonathan Quilter/Dispatch]

By Beth Burger The Columbus Dispatch By Rita Price

The Columbus Dispatch

Posted Aug 1, 2018 at 3:46 PM

Updated Aug 2, 2018 at 6:03 AM

The average black woman in America had to work all of last year and for more than eight months of this year to earn as much as the average white man did in 2017, according to a new survey conducted by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation and the National Urban League.

“To say that this is a problem is the understatement of the year,” Sandberg said.

The technology executive took the stage at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Wednesday, the first day of the National Urban League’s four-day conference. Sandberg and Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial talked about the findings in light of the upcoming Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — the women finally will reach parity on Tuesday — and discussed the work that needs to be done to address racial disparities in the tech industry.

The average black woman is making 38 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women, Sandberg said.

The survey shows that 70 percent of people who are not black believe racism and sexism are not common in their company. And yet, she said, it also showed 64 percent of black women say they have experienced discrimination where they have worked.

“What’s striking about the survey results is how there’s a lack of awareness, or maybe a resistance to awareness, by some about how deep the problem is,” Morial said.

Robin Coleman knows about paycheck problems. The 52-year-old East Side resident, who is black, was pushing a broom across a cavernous exhibit hall as conference attendees finished their lunches.

“I was just talking about how this is a lot of work for a little money,” said Coleman, who works for a staffing agency. “I make $8.50 an hour.”

She said she’s going to get a raise, to $9.50. “I’m grateful, but it’s still not much.”

People with low-wage jobs either have to work more than one or rely on government assistance, she said, and neither is a good option.

“If you work, you should be able to pay for a place to live and food to eat,” Coleman said, adding that she gets by only because she is in subsidized housing.

Wage gaps aren’t likely to narrow until more people understand the plight of workers, Coleman said. “They have to care. You keep talking and talking, but what are you going to do?”

Morial said the tech industry needs to do better when it comes to hiring people of color. “The numbers we found were very low for Silicon Valley firms,” he said, especially since the percentage of college students who major in computer science is roughly equal for blacks and whites, at about 3 percent.

“If you want to build a product that gives voice to people all over the world, you need to build that product with people from diverse backgrounds,” Sandberg said. “We have made some progress but we know we need to do better.”

According to the Urban League’s latest State of Black America report, about 5.7 percent of total black employment in 2017 was in the tech industry, compared to 8.5 percent of white workers. Among social media and technology companies, the report said, the gap is far more stark: In the majority of those companies, less than 5 percent of the workforce is black, while at least half is white.

Sandberg said Facebook is launching a focus on entrepreneurs and by 2020 will be working to provide digital skills training to a million small businesses and people. The social media company is partnering with the National Urban League to ensure training reaches underserved groups.

“We’re really excited about that. We want to make sure we’re doing it the right way, in a community-based way,” Sandberg said.

She also said Facebook is doing more to enhance privacy protections. “We as a company bear that responsibility for building those privacy tools, and making sure people know how to use them.”

Elections are an increasing focus, too, Sandberg told the audience. On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had uncovered efforts aimed at manipulating U.S. politics and elections. The company didn’t directly link the activity to Russia, but said it was “sophisticated.”

Facebook is working closely with law enforcement, Sandberg said.

“Security is an arms race. We get better, they get better,” she said. “We are up against well-funded adversaries.”



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